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K-Dot is back and as usual his music is making heavy first impressions. Though this release, it seems, offers an extraordinarily polarizing opus. Qualms aside, if you're looking for fresh Hip-hop, look no further.
Collectively and wholly speaking, Lamar's first two studio albums gathered a highly positive consensus and were hailed as musically progressive yet stylistically rooted albums. Okay, perhaps his second album really gained most of that traction, but let's be honest: they are both great bodies of work. With this in mind, Kendrick fans and rap connoisseurs alike have been impatiently waiting since late 2013 for the follow-up to good kid, m.A.A.d city.
With an announced release date of March 23rd, Kendrick Lamar's highly anticipated third studio album To Pimp A Butterfly hit iTunes one week early. The blogs are exploding with opinions running the entire spectrum from pious admiration to staunch distaste. Stylistically the album jettisons many of the artist's well-established sounds and techniques arguably more relevant to current Hip-hop in favor of a conglomeration of musical influences as well as a dash of slam poetry. The majority of the songs that do exhibit some of Kendrick's earlier stylistic traits are found toward the end of the album. This track placement bumps the album even further into the domain of experimentation and disagreement. Though as it is said, progress is not possible without deviation. Artists like Kendrick are the reason Hip-hop stands as an art form and does not meekly wilt away breathing its final breath as a has-been.
Throughout his time in the spotlight, Lamar has not been one for catering to the consumer. As a true artist, he releases each album as a no-holds-barred collective of lyrically poetic soul-searching and musical paradox of simultaneous experimentation and homage. The rapper himself described To Pimp A Butterfly as "honest, fearful and unapologetic" in an interview with Rolling Stone. This round, we are gifted with relaxed Jazz club-infused tracks with additional roots tracing to late eighties/early nineties Hip-hop. This hybridity is what has come off as so divisive to the consumer thus far. What is evident, however, is that these styles lend themselves well to one another. The history and timing behind these two musical genres may serve a higher purpose for a deliberate pairing on K-Dot's part. Conscious rap was developed and peaked in the mid-eighties through early nineties. If, as assumed, To Pimp A Butterfly were a musical social commentary and exploration of African American lives, struggle, and modern society, the use of musical clichés and soundscapes from the late eighties and early nineties would paint an effective backdrop to that commentary. Just as Jazz would in light of its history as a truly African American music that developed in communities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a celebration and a fearful presentation of the meaning of Blackness, these two genres meld efficaciously and enhance the experience of the album as a work of art and elevate its status so as to require active listening, and not just the passive listening that we as Americans are exceedingly used to in the digital age.
From the socio-political reference of the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 on pre-released track "The Blacker The Berry", to the uplifting celebration of Blackness in the two-time Grammy award winning "i", this album stands as a narrative of the past, present, and future. The listener is confronted with harsh realities as well as pensive explorations of race, religion, politics, and problems in our present society interestingly enough pitted against eccentric but soft-to-the-touch club-like tracks. Kendrick himself implied that the meaning behind To Pimp A Butterfly is a notion that will inevitably be inculcated in university courses. Whether the recreational opinion of this album is positive or negative, upon completing an active listening of To Pimp A Butterfly, there will no doubt be at least a consensus of artistic progress in Kendrick's latest album by means of musicological and socio-political integration. And he's just getting started.